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JROTC team from FHS again finalists in Washington, DC


Last updated 9/16/2021 at 9:05pm

The Academic Team prepares for an academic heat at Catholic University of America, from left,sitting, Cadet Captain Alexis Rivera, Cadet First Lieutenant Aimee Ozun, Cadet First Sergeant Sean Daley, Cadet Staff Sergeant Connor Allen and, center rear, Cadet Staff Sergeant Jonathan Gates.

Rick Monroe

Special to the Village News

For the third time in four years, the JROTC program at Fallbrook High School reached the finals at the Junior ROTC Leadership and Academic Bowl. The all-service national competition concluded with the championships on July 22 in Washington, D.C.

Three seniors and two juniors represented Fallbrook High School. The seniors are Cadet Capt. Alexis Rivera, Cadet 1st Lt. Aimee Ozuna, and Cadet Staff Sgt. Jonathan Gates. Gates also served as student coach. The juniors on the team are Cadet Staff Sgt. Sean Daley and Cadet Staff Sgt. Connor Allen.

"The ability to tour the Washington Mall and the National Capital Region was very educational for the Cadets and they all had a great time meeting their peers from all over the nation," said W.L. "Bill" Wade, LtCol USMC (Ret), who started the Marine Corps JROTC program at FHS five years ago.

"These students are all very involved in school activities and academics," he added. "Each of them has earned a minimum of a 4.0 GPA or better. They are all college bound and more than ready to take on the challenge."

Ilsa Garza-Gonzalez, superintendent of the Fallbrook Union High School District, had encouraging words about the program.

"The success of our JROTC program is due in large part to the leadership and Lt. Col. Wade, Chief Warrant Officer Thomas Smith, and our former instructor Master Sgt. Brian Richardson, as well as the dedication and commitment of our cadets and community," she said. "Our cadets have developed the leadership skills and knowledge that has earned them recognition as one of the leading academic JROTC units in the country."

Wade retired from Marine Corps after serving as a helicopter pilot and has built the program to 139 students this school year.

"It's very fulfilling," he said. "About 10% of the cadets join the service, some Army, one so far in the Air Force, but mostly Marines. The purpose isn't recruitment to the military but instead is about leadership and developing leaders. It's to prepare students for adult life."

Wade added that the number of students that go on to college are a little higher than for the average student at Fallbrook High.

JROTC is the acronym for Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps.

"We have multiple other teams available for the Cadets," Wade said. "We have a Physical Fitness Team, Cyber Security Team, Drill Team, Color Guard Team, Raiders Team (Orienteering) and soon to come a marksmanship team."

Wade said he is normally able to take the more senior Cadets to the annual event in Washington, D.C. "We have a 'feeder program' for the Academic Team so we can continue to grow in the knowledge and experience process."

There is a backup team as well, he said, but only the five earned their way on the "travel team."

This begins the sixth year of the program and Wade noted that this year he is basically working with two years of new students since it was shut down last year because of COVID-19.

With his military background, Wade has access to Camp Pendleton for field trips, which he said gives students a broader career perspective. Many like the aviation options, he noted, and said they also get to discover a little of what a military life is like.

Some of the cadets are from Marine families, but not an overwhelming number.

JROTC programs from all services can participate in the JLAB competition. There are two preliminary screening tests that the cadets do on-line as a team and their results are posted. The top teams move on to the second round. The top teams after the second round move on to the finals in Washington, D.C.

Worldwide, there are over 600,000 cadets involved in JROTC from the respective services, Wade said. Air Force is the largest, followed by the Army, the Navy and finally the Marine Corps. To earn a spot at nationals, each service has its own "heats" (round one and two) and then the top teams are selected to compete nationally against all the other services. The competition takes place at the Catholic University of America in Northwest D.C.

In the Marine Corps Championship, a Catholic high school in Little Rock, Arkansas, placed first, followed by schools from Virginia and Minnesota for second and third place. Of the five finalists, Fallbrook High was the only one from California.

FHS MCJROTC cadets pose in front of President Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial, from left, Jon Gates, Alexis Rivera, Aimee Ozuna, Sean Daley and Connor Allen.

"In the five years that our JROTC has been in existence, we have competed in JLAB four times," Wade said. "We have advanced to national competition three times – not a bad record! The students are responsible for preparing and studying the material and preparing for each of the 'heats.'"

"The cadets had a great trip to DC and performed very well in heavy competition," Wade said. "Those teams that reach nationals are in the top 3% of the nation and the cadets take this very seriously. And yes, there is significant competition among the instructors!"

Schools from San Diego did well representing the other military branches. Patrick Henry High School placed second in the Navy Academic Championship, and Scripps Ranch High School took first place in the Air Force division. Scripps Ranch went on to claim the top award as Joint Service Academic Champion.


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